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GIRL, INTERRUPTED – Mychael Danna

December 24, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

girlinterruptedOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Stories about people in mental hospitals are a great cinematic breeding ground, especially when they are true. Girl Interrupted has been described as “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest with chicks”, which is actually a pretty neat summary. James Mangold’s film effectively re-captured the sense of friendship and camaraderie that exists between the patients, the trivialities of their lives, the nuances and eccentricities of each character, and how they all rally round to help each other in times of need. Winona Ryder stars as Susanna Kaysen, a troubled young girl in 1960s America who, following prompting by family and friends, voluntarily checks into Claymoore state mental hospital to combat her “borderline personality disorder”. While inside, Susanna meets her fellow patients: compulsive liar Georgina (Clea Duvall), self-mutilator Daisy (Brittany Murphy), arsonist Polly (Elisabeth Moss), and uncontrollable sociopath Lisa (Angelina Jolie), whose anti-social presence has the greatest effect on Susanna’s rehabilitation.

Although Girl Interrupted does tend to wrap things up a little too neatly at the end, and although it does contrive to work in every “female bonding” cliché in the book – including the old girly sing-along – it still manages to be an interesting and powerful film. Angelina Jolie won an Oscar for her performance as the aggressive, confrontational, but terribly confused Lisa – a mixed-up character who shows great sympathy and empathy one moment, but who is capable of great physical and mental cruelty the next. Ryder is at her malnourished best, looking drawn and smoking nervously until achieving an emotional catharsis with her enforced sisters. Mangold’s script, adapted from the autobiographical novel by the real Susanna Kaysen, is a little wishy-washy in parts, and throws up several compelling questions about mental illness, without actually answering any of them adequately.

Contributing to the atmosphere of protracted isolation is Mychael Danna’s excellent score which, although less abstract than many of his usual efforts, is nonetheless interesting and inventive. A standard orchestral complement sits alongside the eerie, haunting, but sometimes strangely amusing sounds of The Glass Orchestra, last heard playing a major part in Marco Beltrami’s The Minus Man. Tracks such as the light, jovial ‘The Ward’, the unnerving ‘Emergency Room’, ‘Daddy’s Money’, ‘Last Night’ and the peculiar chase cue ‘So Many Buttons’ make wonderful use of the Orchestra’s other-worldly tones, which are poetically and accurately described in director Mangold’s liner notes as having a sound “like the rusted chimes of broken toys”.

Danna’s main theme is, in melodic terms, an offshoot from the love theme he wrote for Ride With The Devil; a quiet, pastoral, ascending motif for oboes, strings and solo piano that, in this instance, seeks to illustrate the comparative innocence of the central character, despite her obvious personality flaws and immediate surroundings. The opening cue, ‘You Need A Rest’, sets the scene for the rest of the score, with several beautiful recapitulations in ‘File Reading’, the moving ‘My Friends’, ‘Driving in the Rain’, and the comparatively joyous ‘Going Home’. Mychael’s brother Jeff Danna (who has himself recently moved into film scoring) contributes a series of lovely acoustic guitar solos to ‘Claymoore’, ‘The Tunnels’, ‘New Morning’, and others, while ‘Lisa’ gets her own little recurring motif for ragged strings and atonal glass.

The vast majority of the songs on TVT’s album are of the sisterhood and solidarity, happy-hippy ilk, tunes that capture the spirit of freedom and self-expression that so defined the decade. The new-age dreaminess of The Mamas & The Papas and Jefferson Airplane, the crowd-pleasing antidisestablishmentarianism of Van Morrison and The Chambers Brothers, the gritty blues of Aretha Franklin, and the unstoppable feel-good of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” are definite highlights, but best of all is the fact that their presence on the CD does not in any way detract from Danna’s work. They are sensibly programmed – all ten songs sit at the beginning of the CD – so that the listener has a choice of how to listen to the music, and as a listening experience they give an overall flavour of the musical mix as heard in the film itself.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • How To Fight Loneliness (written by Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett, performed by Wilco) (3:52)
  • It’s All Over Now Baby Blue (written by Bob Dylan, performed by Them featuring Van Morrison) (3:50)
  • The Weight (written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band) (4:35)
  • Got A Feelin’ (written by John Phillips and Dennis Doherty, performed by The Mamas & The Papas) (2:52)
  • Time Has Come Today (written by Willie Chambers and Joseph Chambers, performed by The Chambers Brothers) (4:53)
  • Comin’ Back To Me (written by Marty Balin, performed by Jefferson Airplane) (5:22)
  • Angel of the Morning (written by Chip Taylor, performed by Merrilee Rush & The Turnabouts) (3:11)
  • The Right Time (written by Lew Herman, performed by Aretha Franklin) (4:48)
  • The End of the World (written by Sylvia Dee and Arthur Kent, performed by Skeeter Davis) (2:38)
  • Downtown (written by Tony Hatch, performed by Petula Clark) (3:09)
  • You Need A Rest 91:29)
  • Claymoore (0:51)
  • The Ward (1:46)
  • Emergency Room (0:46)
  • Lisa (1:24)
  • Seclusion (0:33)
  • Meds (1:39)
  • The Tunnels (1:30)
  • File Reading (1:43)
  • Toby/My Friends (2:57)
  • Ambivalence (2:38)
  • Escape (1:55)
  • Daddy’s Money (2:33)
  • New Morning (0:57)
  • Driving in the Rain (3:20)
  • Last Night (2:16)
  • So Many Buttons (1:32)
  • Breakdown (1:50)
  • Going Home (2:15)

Running Time: 73 minutes 19 seconds

TVT Soundtrax 6500-2 (2000)

Music composed by Mychael Danna. Conducted and orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd. Featured musical soloists Michael J. Baker, Eric Cadesky, Paul Hodge, Andy Morris, Richard Sacks and Jeff Danna. Recorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel and Ron Searles. Edited by Thomas Millano and Tom Vilano. Album produced by Mychael Danna, James Mangold and Patricia Joseph.

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